Crown Cork & Seal has a storied history that dates back well before the Industrial Revolution. It began with a simple invention in 1892 – the bottle cap – when founder William Painter discovered a better way to seal the soft drinks and beer containers of that era.
Known today as Crown Holdings, Inc., it remains the largest metal packaging company in the United States, and one of the largest overall packaging companies in the world, serving markets for drinks, food, health & beauty, promotional, luxury and household/industrial products. Crown covers paper, plastic, metal and everything in between.
It has 135 manufacturing plants with 20,500 employees in 41 countries today with annual net sales of $7.9 million. Crown has been a leader in the industry for 120 years, spanning a myriad of technological advances. What started with a “Crown Cork” bottle-cap manufacturing plant in Baltimore grew into the only full-line global packaging company in the world.
There were highs and lows along the way. During World War II, the company received a government citation for developing a gas mask canister to protect the troops. It pioneered the aerosol can in the 1940s. It popularized the pull-tab can a few decades later. By the late 1950s, though, the company flirted with bankruptcy following a series of bad acquisitions, although it recovered quickly after a move to Philadelphia and the naming of John Connelly as its president.
By the 1970s, the company was prospering again with $1 billion in net sales. In the 1990s, Crown began making acquisitions and expanding into plastics. By the 21st century, Crown sold off its cosmetic and plastic businesses yet reported a strong $7.9 billion in net sales.
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Crown did not manufacture any products that contained asbestos. What it did was acquire Mundet Cork in 1963, exposing itself to asbestos litigation. Mundet Cork was attractive for Crown to buy because it manufactured cork-lined bottle caps, but it also produced insulation products and cement, both of which contained large amounts of toxic asbestos. Although Crown sold everything but the bottle-cap division within two years, the liability did not disappear that easily. It remains today. For its Mundet mistake, Crown has paid out more than $700 million.
Employees of Mundet’s insulation and cement plants and their family members were not the only ones at risk to asbestos exposure. Customers that used its products also were vulnerable. They included several oil refineries and the U.S. Navy. Most of Mundet’s products were used commercially, leaving repair and installation workers also at risk.
A Louisiana jury in June of 2012 held Crown 33 percent responsible in a $12 million verdict awarded to Frederick Schulte, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011. Schulte worked as a shipfitter and ironfitter for McDermott Incorporated Shipyard, where he asbestos pipe insulation that was produced by Mundet Cork.
Crown Holdings was dealt a setback early in 2012 when Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton stood up to big business and vetoed proposed legislation that would have limited liability for companies capitalizing on past use of asbestos. Crown has been successful pushing legislation in other states, most notably in the home state of Pennsylvania, where the rights of asbestos victims were reduced.
But the proposal, drafted by the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council, an anti-labor group, was defeated by Dayton’s veto. Had the bill had passed, it would have reduced the future liability of all companies that merged with, or bought, other companies still facing asbestos litigation.
Finishing cement must be durable. It is made of sand, limestone and asbestos to make it fire resistant. Many construction workers were exposed to asbestos from working with finishing cement, insulation and other building materials. Asbestos was inexpensive and made it ideal for construction products.
Magnesia asbestos pipe insulation is made of magnesia alba or magnesium carbonate. Mixing 85 percent magnesium and 15 percent asbestos binds the material, giving it strength and cohesion. Chrysotile asbestos fibers were most frequently used in Mundet’s pipe insulation.
Among Mundet Cork products, which exposed Crown to liability, include the following:
Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of professional writing experience. He joined Asbestos.com in 2016, and he spends much of his time reading, analyzing and reporting on mesothelioma research articles to ensure people in the mesothelioma community know the latest medical advancements. Prior to joining Asbestos.com, Matt was a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt also edits some of the pages on the website.
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